I never anticipated ever leaving the party I dedicated my life to at the age of 20 (I’m now nearly 33). I became a conscious socialist and marxist BEFORE I joined the Socialist Party at Swansea University in autumn 2000. My devotion to fighting for a socialist world remains as firm as ever, although I find myself in the unprecedented situation of being party less and unsure how I can best continue to fight for the working class overthrow of capitalism and imperalism without the revolutionary party I had once considered my own.
Now it is the party of my male oppresser and I struggle to reconcile this fact with my understanding of the actual values of a socialist organisation. The leadership have chosen the man who abused me over myself, discarding me like I’m of no value at all. The Socialist Party is NOT safe for me or any other woman so long as they chose to keep him. Hannah Sell accepted my resignation immediately, making no attempt to persuade me to stay. Somebody from the E.C. contacted Les Woodward to tell him of my resignation immediately. I know this because he posted a denial of my assault on the SP FB group, calling me ‘in need of pyschological help’ and an ex comrade. This post was later removed following a complaint by myself. They then removed me from the Socialist Party Facebook group!
I republish my resignation letter below, as it was removed by the comrade who’d posted it on his blog first, which he has done for his own reasons, which I respect. I’ve also added Hannah’s email which triggered my resignation plus her reply to my resignation then my reply to that. I’ve not heard from the E.C. Since.
Hannah Sell’s decision to dispute my account of the orginal assault in the E.C. Letter to me, (which was sent to 50 SP members after I had contacted them on fb about both the Steve Hedley domestic violence case and my own case via private message) has caused me great anxety and upset . I simply can not believe the E.C. would do this to me, a recognised victim of a sexual assault.
My Sexual Assault Referal Clinic Advocate advised me that any continued efforts by the SP to dispute my account will directly prevent me from overcoming the ordeal. Each time I’m asked to recount what this pervert did to me it revisits the original trauma. I do not understand why the E.C. can not accept that my account is true and feel they can undermine me in front of some many comrades.
Sexual Assault is a criminal offence. There is no excuse for it, there are no mitigating circumstances which excuse it and there is no such thing as an acceptable level of pain a woman must suffer before the perputuator is suitably punished by the party – e.g. Expulsion.
This reasoning in itself is sexist – why should women have to endure sexual assault and trauma when this in general does not apply to men (who statistically are much less likely to suffer such abuse). Why should women have to ‘put up’ with such abusive, sexist behaviour because we have the misfortune of being born a woman? Excuse me but I do not recall asking for my born gender and I’m fighting to be treated as an individual, a person, a human and not to be reduced to the status of ‘woman’.
NO ONE should have to put up with sexual abuse, female, male or child. It is correct to advocate a zero tolerance approach of sexual assault within the labour movement, just as we would NEVER tolerate a case of racial assault. Both are criminal offences, both are hostile, discriminatory and alien to socialists.
My resignation letter to Hannah is strongly worded, ‘emotional’ even. I make no apology for this – I have suffered a grevious injustice and I speak not just for myself but for ALL women, men and children who will remain at risk so long as socialist organisations cover up allegations of abuse, kicking out the victims and protecting the (usually male but not always) abusers because our leadership have judged men like Les Woodward as ‘working class heroes’ whilst we women who dare protest are written out of party history, in a coup worthy of Stalinism itself.
If you are a Socialist Party / CWI member yourself, I appeal to you to look deep into your conscience and speak out now if you do not want your party to kick out its internal critics for the thought crime of contradicting the leadership and daring to suggest they are not infalliable gods of socialism but actual human beings, more than capable of human error, as we all are indeed.
York, jeudi 18 avril 2013
Below – correspondance between myself and Hannah Sell. I will post my earlier emails to Hannah not published below in due course. i have been denied the right of reply to the E.C. long letter to me last week as they accepted my resignation, ensuring that I would have no right of reply as a party member. How convenient for them! This reply is currently being prepared, Sara
Les posted on the SP FB page yesterday to deny the assault, claim I was a mentally ill liar (I”m sorry I don’t have the precise quote in front of me, a friend has a screenshot of it)
On this post (removed on my request by comrade X) Les announces I’m an ex comrade, without naming me.
Did you tell Les I’d resigned and are you happy to keep the man who now denies the assault and insults me and all disabled people online?
The result of your actions has directly led to boasting Les’ confidence and taking away mine.
You have choosen Les – he’s a comrade while I have been forced out because of your decision to allow Les to pursue a complaint against me, his victim.
sarah (email@example.com) 12/04/2013
To: hannah sell
Hannah, why are you allowing Les’ complaint to go against me at all? He assaulted me, what are you doing? Yes, you accept I was assaulted but you call me a liar because you dispute my v ersion of events, understate the harm and do not accept what was said to me by COMRADE M at the wales e.c. mtg on jan 11th so my points remain. like i said i resigned yesterday.
i’ll reply to you in full and in public shortly.
hannah sell (HannahSell@socialistparty.org.uk) 11/04/2013
To: Sarah Mayo
It is completely incorrect to say that we have ‘come out and support Les’. Les’s complaint has been sent to the AC without any pre-judgement on our part and we have repeatedly made very clear that we uphold your original complaint against Les. We repeated this in our email to you yesterday, stating:
“At no stage have the comrades who have been involved in dealing with your complaint in anyway belittled the incident which took place. It was completely unacceptable and clearly extremely distressing for you.”
We agree with you that the incident was unacceptable – it is completely inaccurate to imply that we have ever ‘called you a liar’. Our difference with you, as we have stated consistently, is that, given all the factors, we do not think expulsion is a proportionate response to it.
We acknowledge your decision to resign from the Socialist Party.
On behalf of the EC
You continue to victim blame me and call me a liar for ‘overstating my own harm’. You are an appalling human being, directly responsible for causing me great pain and loss of confidence. If I chose to accept your version of events I would never be able to recover from this ordeal.
Worse, you are taking the side of Les – the sex criminal – even supporting his complaint, escalating it IMMEDIATELY to the appeals ctte, though I went thru the Wales E.C. and E.C. first! Adding further acid to your fire, you tell me Les’ appeal will be handled at the same time as mine.
Therefore, you do not care how much you are hurting me as a victim of sexual violence and you are directly trying to making this party unsafe for me for making me have contact with the man who has traumatised me.
HANNAH SELL – E.C. – I do not have to convince any of you what the truth is, you are both demeaning me and attempting to humilate me – THE VICTIM OF A SEXUAL ASSAULT –
for the ‘crime’ of speaking out.
We, on the other hand, know the truth, which is the most important thing in recovery. What is important is that I feel safe wherever I choose to be and that I speak the truth. I have many many friends and supporters in the SP and they too will be speaking out and are discussing it in their branches. We will battle for women’s safety in this party until this is achieved.
Your decision to defend Steve Hedley and the RMT will go down in history as the 21st century eqvuivalent of the Eleanor Marx / Will Thorne case, where Thornhill tricked Eleanor to commit suicide so he could leave her for another woman.
You would have let Eleanor Marx go too and defended poor old Will.
I will reply in full to everything you’ve scandalously written and done here but my recovery and mental health are the priority for me now.
Therefore Hannah, I resign today in protest at your singularly failure to make this a safe party for me and your despicable decision to defend Les Woodward.
Well done Hannah. What outstanding work on your part.
You are NOT my comrade and do not ever address yourself as such to me again
You are on the wrong side of history Hannah and I only hope that comrades in the party successfully fight to overthrow your incorrect position on the SWP case, Caroline’s case and my own and how to make the labour movement and SP safe for women
sarah (firstname.lastname@example.org) 10/04/2013
To: hannah sell
I refuse to take part in this appeals committee because of your decision to put my complaint against les’ complaint and for e.c. to come out and support Les in this action.
I will reply of course to all of this when I can.
hannah sell (HannahSell@socialistparty.org.uk) 10/04/2013
To: Sarah Mayo
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As I told you by email on Friday, your new request for the Appeals Committee (AC) to carry out an investigation into your complaint against Les Woodward has been passed to the AC and the EC has asked them to proceed with the investigation. As you have requested, the AC has been asked to form a view on whether your demand for Les to be expelled from the party is justified, and to examine the actions of the Wales EC and the national EC in dealing with your complaint.
In addition the AC has also been asked to examine a complaint against you by Les Woodward which he submitted to us on Friday 5 April, 2013. Central to Les’s complaint is that you are attempting to stop him, as a Socialist Party member, taking part in the activities and campaigns of our party. As you are arguing the case for Les’s expulsion to the AC, and in the interim for him to be prevented from attending the NSSN lobby of the TUC on 24 April, 2013, it clearly makes sense for the AC to investigate both complaints simultaneously.
However, you sent us an email yesterday – 09 April, 2013 – in which you state that the EC has “denied you any justice and that you: “no longer have any confidence in the present E.C. And think you ought to step down – all of you – if you cannot accept you have made a very serious error and need to take urgent corrective action by expelling Les and apologising to me in full for all the needless distress and pain my ‘leadership’ has caused me because I was a victim of a sex crime”. In the same email you also question the independence and democratic function of the AC, which you also described in an email on 28 March 2013 as a “kangaroo court”. As we will go onto explain in this letter, we believe that the EC has dealt with your complaint against Les Woodward in an extremely fair and democratic manner. When you were decided you were not satisfied with the outcome of the EC investigation we immediately asked the AC to carry out an independent investigation. The AC is made up of rank-and-file party members, elected by the national congress, and is independent of the EC and National Committee.
You, however, have decided on the basis of our alleged handling of this one complaint that you have no confidence in the party’s leadership or Appeals Committee – both of which were democratically elected by branch delegates, including yourself, at our party congress just over a month ago. We have referred your complaint to the AC and they are prepared to carry out an investigation as quickly as they are able. However, it is your choice. If you genuinely believe, on no grounds whatsoever, that the AC is no more than a “kangaroo court” it is not reasonable to expect them to spend time investigating your complaint.
Unfortunately, however, prior to your email of 09 April your actions were already severely undermining the AC’s ability to carry out a fair and democratic investigation. We wrote to you on 19 March, 2013 stating that: “If you wish to have the Appeals Committee investigate your complaint it is necessary that you desist from raising the issue, both publicly and within the party, while the Appeals Committee completes its deliberations. It would not be possible for the Appeals Committee to conduct a fair and democratic investigation at the same time as a debate on the issues under investigation is taking place either in the party or more broadly.”
In the same email we went on to explain that, “we have referred the matter to the Appeals Committee and you have every right to put to them the case for the expulsion of Les. Alternatively, you can choose to engage in a debate on issues relating to sexual harassment and assault, and how the party should deal with them, within the party and, if you take that path, publicly. In that case, the EC will exercise its right to reply to your points. However, we believe that you have to choose one course or another: you can’t have it both ways. Please let us know whether you wish to proceed with the Appeals Committee on the basis of confidentiality until the proceedings are complete or you prefer to debate the issues openly at this stage.”
You initially responded by withdrawing your complaint to the AC in order to debate the issues. However, you then sent a second email later on 19 March, 2013 in which you stated:
“I do not think that any request for me not to engage in the wider, political debate surrounding the issue of violence against women, rape and sexual assault is justified [a request that has never been made – HS] although, I will agree not to speak about the specifics of my case until the appeal has been heard – from tomorrow morning (e.g. Wed. 20th March 2013) when I have received confirmation from yourself that this action has gone forward. I and others I have spoken to, who have shown concern and support , will also undertake not to initiate a wider debate within the party until my case is resolved and we have a conclusion to draw from (to add to/inform any debate), if that is appropriate.”
We replied making it clear that your agreement did not: “in any way preclude you from raising political issues relating to women’s oppression, including sexual violence.” We also repeated our request that you take down your blog post: ‘Just another woman’s testimony of sexual assault, sexism and male abuse of power in the labour movement’ while the appeal takes place: “as it clearly implies a similarity between the way our party has handled your complaint and the mistakes made by others on the left. In our view this is completely incorrect. However, it is not possible to engage in a debate on these issues while the party’s democratic structures are still carrying out an investigation.” You asked us if we would take disciplinary action against you if you refused to take it down, and we replied making it clear that we had never proposed disciplinary action against you and would not do so if you left the blog post up. However, we repeated our request that you take it down while the Appeal conducts its investigation.
Unfortunately, you did not only leave the blog post up but have now added another one explicitly making it clear that you are a member of the Socialist Party in South Wales. In addition, you have not abided by your agreement not to speak about the specifics of your case while the investigation is ongoing. Ross Saunders has sent us a Facebook conversation, initiated by you on 7 April 2013, and involving around 40 people, most but not all of whom are party members. Clearly a number of them were completely unaware of the issues before you chose to involve them in the conversation. In the course of the discussion you make a number of remarks referring to Les Woodward, and also to the EC’s handling of your complaint.
Your remarks include the following:
“Comrades, I was sexually assaulted by Llanelli Socialist Party member on the last evening of the Wales TUC in the Llandudno Wetherspoons late last May. Les has admitted he did this and apologised. If you want to please read my blog post about this which I published last month. In it, I explain how I use my personal case to make broader political points on the marxist CWI political program for socialist revollution and women’s liberation.”
And then on the party’s handling of the issue:
“but when the normal party avenues are not easy ones to access because the people in charge want you to shut up and stop talking about the man who assaulted me, forgive me comrade, but i will resort to other methods of communication r.e. facebook.”
“if the party doesn’t open up over this and if cdes I’ve contacted chose to ignore it (a conscious choice on their part), not raising it in their branch and speaking to their full timers about it, they are consciously choosing to lose cdes such as myself, because whilst les and hedley are indispensible (hedley will publicly colloborate with us and we with him at NSSN TUC lobby, for ex) women such as myself can be sacrificed in the name of ‘protecting the party’s reputation’ [an ‘argument’ incidentally that has never been made by the EC- HS] but not alas, protecting women.”
At the end of the conversation you are asked by another participant if you are happy for the information contained in the thread to be shared with other people, given the Appeal’s Committee on-going investigation, and you reply:
“I’m happy to share all of it r.e. Les”
Clearly, you are continuing to conduct a campaign inside and outside of the party for Les’s expulsion and also to criticise the party’s democratic procedures. As we have explained repeatedly, to do this while the AC is investigating can undermine and even compromise their investigation.
Of course this is not in any way to debar you from raising your political views, which we are happy to debate. We have done this in the past, when you and some other comrades did not agree with the party’s position on the unionisation of sex workers. A special national women’s meeting was organised, taking place in Wales, to discuss the issues and written material was circulated throughout the party in which both sides argued their case. In the event your views were in a small minority, but you were given every facility to raise them. Today the EC is preparing material taking up the mistaken ideas of petit-bourgeois feminism, in contrast to working-class socialist feminism, and we are happy to engage in debate around this and other questions relating to the specific oppression of women.
However, up until now we have remained silent on all the issues relating to your case, allowing your arguments to go completely unanswered. We have done this because we do not want to undermine the AC investigation, as we are anxious to give every facility to you to try and resolve the issues to your satisfaction via the democratic structures of the party. We would far rather continue to remain silent now, and await the outcome of the AC investigation, however, we have no choice but to send this email to all of the Socialist Party members you included in the Facebook conversation which you began on 7 April 2013, so they can hear our view on the issues, and therefore draw their own conclusions.
If you choose to go ahead with the AC, we call on you once again to immediately desist from raising the issue, both publicly and within the party, until the AC has finished its deliberations. If you do continue to campaign on these issues within the party and beyond, we will have no choice but to also put our views more widely. Of course, once the AC has finished its investigation, if you are not satisfied with the outcome, you have every right to pursue your case within the party’s democratic structures.
In November, 2012 you spoke to Ross Saunders, the full-time organiser for the party in Cardiff, and told him that you had been assaulted by Les Woodward in the pub on the last night of the Wales TUC congress in May 2012. Les is a relatively new party member in Llanelli branch, who joined in March 2011, and is a leading activist in Remploy. The next day Ross met you at your flat to hear the details of your complaint. Another comrade was present at your request.
At no stage have the comrades who have been involved in dealing with your complaint in anyway belittled the incident which took place. It was completely unacceptable and clearly extremely distressing for you. We would much rather not repeat the details of the incident in this email. Unfortunately, however, in the Facebook conversation already referred to, you call for Les’s expulsion using a general term of ‘sexual assault’ which can include a very wide range of incidents. In your email to us dated 4 April, 2013 you say that your Sexual Assault Referral Clinic Advocate was shocked and appalled by our handling of your complaint. You say that she is going to write to us to explain: “why Les is a sex criminal and is not safe around women, children and vulnerable people.” We do not think this extremely serious – and potentially defamatory – conclusion could reasonably be drawn from the account of the incident you have given to us. We are therefore anxious to hear from your Advocate, and would like to clarify with you what report of the incident you have given to her.
We therefore think there is no choice but to give the details of the incident in order for the comrades you have discussed with to form their own opinion about the party’s response on the issue to date, and for them to decide if they think expulsion would be proportionate.
You described the assault on that day to Ross, and later to other Wales EC members and also to Judy Beishon and I, who met you on behalf of the EC, as taking place in the pub, at around 10 pm, on the last night of the Wales TUC. You described it as consisting of Les putting his hand on your leg for an extended period of time, which you thought was up to fifteen minutes. You explained that Les had pushed his hand under your skirt. He did not touch any other part of your body. While he was doing this you were in shock. When you reported the case to Wales EC comrades, and also to me and Judy, you stated Les had not made any verbal sexual advances; and that the two of you had continued to talk about other issues while his hand was touching you. However, in your blog post on 09 April 2013 you say Les was “groaning”; this is new information to us. You told us you that you did not say anything to Les or move away, as you were in shock, but you were certain that he knew his touch was unwelcome, as you attempted to wriggle away. The incident came to an end when you stood up and said you had to go. Les then requested that you assist him back to his hotel, due to his disability and being very drunk. You felt you had no choice but to do so. He did not touch you inappropriately again on the way back to the hotel. You left him outside it.
How the Wales EC handled your complaint
· Following your meeting with Ross in November 2012 you agreed to meet with Alec Thraves, the full-time organiser for the party covering Llanelli, Ross Saunders, Cardiff full timer and Mariam Kamish, another leading party member so they could hear your allegations directly. At that meeting you agreed that Alec would meet with Les Woodward. At that meeting you agreed that an apology from Les would be an acceptable resolution to the situation.
· Alec met with Les later in December. Les said that he had no clear recollection of what had happened as he had been very drunk. However, he said he was horrified, and that he fully apologised, and would ensure that nothing of the kind would happen again in the future, involving you or anyone else. At Alec’s suggestion Les phoned you to apologise and left a message. Alec also contacted you and passed on Les’s apology.
· You then contacted Ross to say you were now not happy with the outcome. Early in January 2013 you contacted Ross and asked for the Wales EC to discuss the issue. They did so within a week. The Wales EC meeting agreed that the issue had been dealt with correctly up until that point and discussed taking further political action to raise the profile of women’s work to give confidence to comrades that inappropriate behaviour would be challenged. It was agreed that Mariam and Ross would meet with you to report what the meeting had decided.
· That meeting took place the next day. Allan Coote and Jaime Davies were also present at your request. At that meeting you made it clear you did not agree with the Wales EC’s decision and wanted Les expelled. At the end of that meeting it was agreed that a further meeting would take place in a few days, on Sunday 13 January 2013, with the Wales NC members, yourself, Mariam Kamish, and anyone else you wished to attend.
· At that meeting you said you were still not happy with the outcome of the Wales EC’s discussions, had no confidence in the Welsh leadership and was going to refer the matter to the National EC.
How the national EC handled your complaint
· On 7 January 2013 you contacted me to ask to discuss your complaint. I replied saying that I had talked to the Wales Regional Secretary, Dave Reid, and understood that you were having a meeting to try and resolve the issues on Sunday 13 January, 2013. I suggested you got in touch again if that meeting did not satisfy your concerns.
· On 14 January 2013 you sent me an email explaining that, while you were no longer asking for Les to be expelled, you were not satisfied with the way the Wales EC had handled your complaint. I replied on 15 January, on behalf of the EC, suggesting you come to London to discuss with myself and another member of the EC. In this email I asked you not to make further posts on Facebook and other social media as it could make it difficult for the issues to be dealt with fairly and democratically. You replied agreeing to this.
· You came to London on 26 January and met with Judy Beishon and myself. We answered a number of questions, including making it clear that we supported the right of comrades to report sex-crimes to the police. At the end of that discussion we made it clear to you that, in our personal view, while taking into account the significant distress the incident had caused you, the Wales EC were nonetheless correct not to propose Les’s expulsion as this would not be a proportionate response to the incident. Particularly given Les’s unconditional apology and, as far as we were aware, this having been the first incident of this type involving Les, we thought that the Wales EC general approach had been correct. However, we explained, we would need to discuss with the rest of the EC before reaching a decision. We reported to you that, since your email of 14 January, the Wales EC comrades had discussed with Les and he had agreed not to attend the Socialist Party Wales conference or the national conference. We also said that we thought some additional measures could be taken in addition to those made by the Wales EC. We raised the following options:
o Someone else talking to Les. Such a discussion could emphasise the degree of your distress.
o Making sure that any future transgressions by Les of the same character are dealt with more severely (we did make it clear that we were confident this would happen anyway, and is normal in such cases).
o Producing some general written material on opposing sexual violence and harassment
o Giving a clear explanation of the role of the appeals committee at national congress
· In that discussion you said you would be satisfied if the EC agreed these measures. We agreed to speak to you after the EC had met to agree how to proceed. The EC met on Thursday 31 January and ratified the report Judy and I gave. I spoke to you on Saturday 2 February and explained this to you. I asked you if you were satisfied by what the EC had agreed and made clear to you that, if you were not, you had the right to go to the Appeals Committee. I offered you more time to think about it and agreed to ring you back to discuss it further on Monday. I spoke to you on Monday 4 February. I reported that the EC was proposing I would discuss with Les Woodward, which I did on 20 March, 2013. You agreed to this and to all of the EC’s recommendations. You confirmed this by email on 7 February stating: “Following our conversation yesterday I’ve had a think and yes, I’m happy to now end the formal complaint process following the E.C.’s recommendations.”
· On Monday 11 March you posted an anonymous blog post which clearly referred to your complaint against Les.
· On 13 March you emailed me to say you were no longer happy with the EC’s decisions and that you wanted to go to the Appeals Committee to demand Les’s expulsion. You also asked if we supported the right of female members’ right to report sex crimes to the police. I replied on behalf of the EC the next day agreeing to refer the matter to the Appeals Committee and reiterating that the party fully supported the right of all comrades to report allegations of sex crimes to the police and other appropriate bodies. The email also again emphasised that it would be better if you didn’t raise the issues on internet forums while the AC investigated.
· On 19 March you withdrew your Appeal, but then later the same day reinstated it and agreed not to speak about the specifics of the case until the AC had concluded. In that email you demanded that the AC concluded its deliberations within eight weeks. We replied that this could not be guaranteed, as the AC are rank-and-file comrades with other pressures on their time, but we agreed it should be dealt with as quickly as possible.
· On Friday 22 March you sent me an email which included a number of questions, for which you wanted an ‘immediate reply’ before you could decide whether you wanted your appeal to go ahead or not. We answered your questions on Monday 25 March.
· On 27 March I emailed you again to find out if you wanted to go ahead with the AC investigation. I received no response and so emailed again on 28 March. You replied later on 28 March, but the email did not specify whether you wanted to go ahead with an Appeal. In addition you said: “I will no longer take part in this kangaroo court appeal as determined by the present E.C”. I replied re-emphasising that the AC is a body independent of the EC, made up of rank and file party members and elected by the national congress. I therefore asked for clarification on whether you wanted an Appeal to go ahead or not.
· You replied on Thursday 4 April saying that you did want to go ahead with an appeal and that the AC should convene within the next three weeks to rule on your case. As I said at the beginning of this email we have forwarded that email to the AC, and have asked them to proceed as quickly as they are able to although it is not possible to guarantee this would be done in three weeks.
In our view both the Wales EC and the EC nationally recognise the distress this incident has caused you and have done all we can to find a solution which is satisfactory to you. When this has not proved possible, we have facilitated you raising your point of view via the democratic structures of the party. We have never put pressure on you either to go to the AC or not, but have made clear the decision is entirely yours. We have conducted discussions with you in a calm and comradely manner at all times despite your own tone having been, to say the least, not in the democratic tradition of our party. We have not responded when you have accused the EC of “gross incompetence, cowardice and political betrayal” or of “bureaucratic centralism”. We have only asked that you refrain from conducting a campaign on this issue while the AC investigates. We make this appeal again, and repeat that, if you continue your current campaign, we will have no choice but to explain to party members how we have dealt with your complaint, which, in our view, is an example of the party’s very good record in dealing with issues of sexual harassment and abuse. Once again, as ever, the choice is yours.
For the EC